Iraq: The Crumbling Coalition
As Italy mourns and Japan abandons plans to send troops, Bush desperately scrambles for new approach
November 14 2003, the Independent UK
by Rupert Cornwell in Washington and Phil Reeves in Baghdad
The American-led coalition's failure to secure additional outside help in policing Iraq during a worsening security crisis was exposed yesterday when Japan backed away from sending troops.
The death toll in Wednesday's suicide bombing at an Italian base in Nasiriyah rose to 31, adding impetus to the efforts of George Bush and his administration to extract the United States from the worsening conflict.
Washington is more anxious than ever to hand power to Iraqis - without Iraq collapsing into chaos in the process. President Bush said last night that America wanted to speed up the transfer of power: "We want Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country."
Japan reacted to Wednesday's carnage by indicating that it would postpone plans to send 1,000 troops by the end of the year because of the instability. The announcement made it the latest important potential contributor of troops to refuse to send forces. India, Pakistan, and, most importantly Turkey - which would have been the first main involvement of a Muslim nation - have also declined.
Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are the only Muslim countries in the 34-nation coalition, providing 175 troops between them. The United Nations and the Red Cross have also withdrawn from Iraq in recent weeks.
In another setback for the White House, South Korea - another usually close US ally - scaled its contribution back to 3,000 troops, from the 5,000 originally requested by the Pentagon. And no date has been set for their deployment.
France, vocal opponents of the invasion, piled the pressure on Washington, calling for an urgent change in its approach to Iraq. "Every day, it is spiraling in Iraq with American, British, Polish, Spanish, Italian deaths," France's Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, told French radio. "How many deaths does it take to understand that it is essential to change the approach?"
The coalition has not yet disintegrated but it is in danger of crumbling in the face of attacks in Iraq and growing worldwide opposition. Of those that have sent troops to Iraq, no country has said it will pull out but in Italy - the third-largest contributor of troops - parts of the opposition now want to withdraw. Many more countries may be reviewing their presence in the light of continuing attacks on occupation forces.
Despite claiming in February that it had assembled a coalition of at least 30 "willing" nations, America has been unable to assemble a credible group prepared to provide troops in the numbers required. It has been forced to rely on smaller nations, including Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Honduras. Even Poland, which controls one of the Iraqi sectors and leads a 9,000-strong force, has little or no experience of such an operation. France has ruled out sending troops before a handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
The real failure of the US has been its inability to expand the coalition, and attract a second international division to join the one already in Iraq.
General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, said: "The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily. The goal is to break the will of the United States, to make us leave." And, he might have added, to deter other countries from sending troops.
The attack on the Italians was a clever tactic, hitting representatives of a country that has 2,400 men in Iraq - a number exceeded only by the US and Britain - and has a distinguished peace-keeping record in the Middle East, but where public opinion has been strongly against the war.
The bomb - 650lbs of high explosive - blew the front off a building used by Italian paramilitaries. Hospital officials estimated the number of injured at 80.
Italy's Defense Minister, Antonio Martino, toured the scene yesterday. He said: "Slightly over a month ago, I was in New York City at ground zero, and I was struck by the similarity of the impression of my feelings. And then I realized why, because they are the same people, they are the people we are fighting against."
US officials said yesterday that another American soldier had been killed, pushing the overall number of American deaths to close to 400.
The attacks are corroding domestic support in the US for the occupation of Iraq, and are deepening disquiet within the international community.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
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